Posts Tagged ‘beef’

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Serves 4-5.

1 ½ lbs. spaghetti
6 cups tomato sauce
1 lb. ground pork
1 lb. ground sirloin
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbs. ground onion (about a quarter of an onion)
1 tbs. parsley or thyme, finely chopped (only one)
2 cups fresh white breadcrumbs (stale white bread ground in a food processor)
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup whole milk (enough milk to wet crumbs without them sitting in a big puddle)
1 pinch chili flakes
¼ cup parmigiano reggiano, grated
Vegetable oil, to coat the pan
Salt and ground black pepper

  • Soak breadcrumbs in milk for about 5 minutes or until all the milk is absorbed.
  • Add onion, garlic, chili flakes, grated cheese, eggs, herbs, pepper, and salt (if you like things on the saltier side like me, a small palm-ful is good). Mix everything well. Add meat. Mix gently until just combined.
  • Form golf ball sized balls. Don’t tightly pack the meatballs. Only handle them until just round. You can also make one tiny marble sized meatball (cook this one in the pan to make sure your seasoning is right. If it needs more salt, just sprinkle the formed meatballs with more salt).
  • Meanwhile, heat up a big pot of water to a rolling boil. Make the spaghetti according to the package.
  • Heat up a pan on high. Add oil and let it heat up. When almost smoking, add the meatballs, trying not to overcrowd the pan. It’ll probably take two batches of cooking to get them all.
  • Sear the meatballs on all sides. Take them out of the pan and set them aside.
  • Drain the excess grease from the pan, if there is any. Lower flame to medium and add tomato sauce. Scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Let tomato sauce come to a bare simmer. Add all meatballs to sauce and let simmer for about 8-10 minutes to finish off cooking.
  • Toss together spaghetti, meatballs, and sauce. Serve with more cheese on the side.

The key to this recipe is the use of fresh breadcrumbs and soaking them in milk. I had always used dry breadcrumbs (the kind in a can) and the meatballs always came out a little too dense. The milk-soaked fresh crumbs give a lightness and creaminess to the meatballs. Almost as good as grandma’s.


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Bern’s Steak House
1208 S. Howard Avenue
Tampa, FL 33606
(813) 251-2421

As I mentioned at the end of my Momofuku Ko post (let’s see how many times I can link to that before it gets lame and obscure), I recently went to Tampa, FL for a little self-imposed Spring Break. Matt had an actual one and I used it as an excuse to take off a few days myself. Not a Girls-Gone-Wild, ‘zongs in the wind, STD swapping type Spring Break (I’m too old for that), but rather a relax in the sun, learn how to golf, eat well, grill outdoors, and read Toobin’s The Nine type Spring Break. That’s just how Matt and I roll. Like 70 year old retirees.

And we love it.

Golf was fun. Matt bought me my first Yankees cap at Legends Field (now known as Steinbrenner Field) before the Spring Training game we caught. Beach was pleasant. Weather was gorgeous, but let’s call a spade a spade. I was most excited for our meal at the famous Bern’s Steak House.

When we first decided to go to Tampa (his grandfather has a vacation home there) back in February, the first things we thought of were our meals, which nights we’d cook, which nights we’d eat out, where, etc. Matt began to tell me about this magical, mystical steak house called Bern’s where the wine menu totaled approximately 150 pages, the food menu was 18 pages, and there was a separate room for desserts. I was transfixed by these tales and we immediately made a reservation.

When you enter the restaurant, you form two immediate impressions: 1) you’ve walked into the interior design lovechild of Louis XIV and a New Orleans whore house and 2) you’re somewhere quite fancy pants for typically laid back Tampa. It’s dim inside with all dark red and gold and mirrors, and, although the restaurant has at least four separate sizable dining rooms (plus one dessert room), the place is quite quiet without having that uptight library hush most upscale joints possess.

Now me being the person that I am, I had already read through the 18 page menu several times, so we already had a good idea of what we were getting. In fact, we knew exactly what we were getting. From the massive steak chart, we had chosen the 1 3/4″, 19 oz. strip sirloin for two, medium rare, of course. Each steak comes with a mixed salad, onion rings, carrots, baked potato, French onion soup, and a vegetable “tasting” that changes daily. On our day, it was sauteed string beans.

Did I mention that all the produce comes from Bern’s own gigantic organic farm? Also that they have a 500 gallon (or something like that) fish tank for all their seafood? That they have a separate room for dessert and after dinner drinks? And that they have the largest private collection of wine in the WORLD? Yes, the world.

After a starter of delicious oysters (from both coasts) served with an astounding truffle mignonette, cocktail sauce, green Tabasco granita, and horseradish sorbet, we moved on to our little silver bowls of soup, which were average, but tasty. After that were our mixed salads, Matt’s with a fairly impressive wasabi green goddess dressing and mine with one bowl of that and one bowl of the macadamia nut vanilla vinaigrette. Unfortunately for my savory-loving tastebuds, the vanilla vinaigrette could (and should) have been served over apple pie.

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Then came the main event: the steak. Brought to our table whole, the steak was divided up in front of us by our kind, albeit constantly panting, waiter.


The steak was a touch more rare than medium rare, but we’re not the complaining type and don’t really mind rare meat so we didn’t say anything.


The strip sirloin also came with a portion of filet mignon to round off the 19 ounces of steak that we were promised because they cut the inedible tail off the strip, but feel the need to replace those lost ounces with some filet. A little nutty and completely unnecessary, right? Yeah, that pretty much explains the entire experience at Bern’s, right down to the five million complimentary side dishes and a piano player with a phone for request calls (coming from phones in the dessert booths).

The steak was tender and delicious, but I would have appreciated it cooked a shade more. We then opted to take the kitchen tour after our entrees, but before dessert. Each station in the vast kitchen was pointed out to us quickly by a nervous, but courteous waiter-in-training, including the salad station and the cheese “caves” (walk-in refrigerators). We were then passed off to one of the sommeliers (also nervous, but polite) who took us into the frigid wine cellar and showed us rows upon rows of floor to ceiling shelves filled with thousands of bottles, the oldest of which dated back to the late 1700’s, the most expensive of which was approximately $10,000. The wine collection is so huge that most of it is stored in a warehouse next door though.

Next, we mounted some stairs to the Harry Waugh Dessert Room. You can read all about Harry in the dessert menu. Something about Bern having had dessert and coffee in Waugh the wine genius’s drawing room once. For dessert, I had a key lime pie, which turned out to be more like a lime tart with a buttery crust covered in a mountain of whipped cream. Not quite key lime pie, but still deliciously light and citrus-y. Matt had some outrageous peanut butter chocolate chip pie cake concoction.


We were in the room with the aforementioned piano player who looked like that sadistic French instructor, Mr. Cleary, from School Ties. You knowwww, the jerk who drives McGivern crazy because he can’t recite the monologue and then the (hot) guys seek revenge by somehow placing his precious car in the teacher’s apartment?

Remember him!?

Our own piano playing Mr. Cleary

He played everything from Piano Man to Margharitaville. It was entertaining and weird. Made all the weirder by the decor of this area of the restaurant that looked like the inside of a Ranch-style house from the 1970’s (lots of dark wood, amber colored lamps, red leather, bricks).

This restaurant is full of a lot of gimmicks and odd touches, but that’s where its charm lies. Gimmicks like the piano man phone and the plastic covered toilets (press the green button and a new sheath of plastic comes sliding on counter clockwise while the old plastic slides back into the machine):


Despite the sometimes inexplicable decor, the slightly overbearing service, and, in our case, the undercooked steak, a good time was had by all. An expensive good time, sure, but it’s quite an experience to sit down to all these options, a veritable cornucopia laid at your feet, just for one gluttonous evening.

Dinner for Two:

  • 12 Oysters – $35.95
  • 19 oz. Strip Sirloin for Two – $75.42
  • Bottle of Red – $49
  • Key Lime Pie – $8
  • Peanut Butter Choc. Chip Pie – $9
  • Espresso – $4
  • Total (excluding tax and tip) = $181.37

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In an effort to push myself out of my comfort zone, I’ve tried being a little more adventurous in the kitchen. What’s the point of all my learning, researching, Food Network watching, and cookbook reading if I’m just gonna prepare the same things day in and day out?

One thing that I love, but very rarely (until now) make at home is steak. I would always think steaks are too expensive, I don’t have a grill, I don’t know much about the different cuts, I can’t, I won’t, I don’t, I shan’t…blah, blah, blah and on and on and on. I’m great at the excuses, but I knew that, in reality, none of that was actually true and I was gonna do some investigating to figure out how I could eat steak in the comfort of my own home. Plus, it’s not like eating steak out is so affordable either.

So I decided to write this little tutorial on steak.

Welcome to Steak 101.

Some basics about steak to consider are cost, fat content (or “marbling”), keeping it juicy, how to cook it, and how/when to cut it.

Some equipment you’ll need to do a good job: decent sized cutting board, heavy bottomed skillet of some sort or a grill/grill pan, tongs, and a decent knife (either a carving knife or chef’s knife or, if you’re serving individual steaks, steak knives).

Levels of “Doneness”:

  • Raw: (Not cooked at all) Usually chopped up or sliced, like in steak tartare or carpaccio
  • Rare: (Core temperature of 119-121 Degrees) Outside appears brownish, gray-ish and middle is still bright red
  • Medium Rare: (Core temp of 125-127 Degrees) Outside is nicely browned and middle is reddish, with a rim of pink; most typical level of doneness in steakhouses
  • Medium: (Core temp of 133-135 Degrees) Middle is deeply pink
  • Medium Well: (Core temp of 143-145 Degrees) Middle is light pink
  • Well Done: (Core temp of 166-170 Degrees) Steak is completely cooked through and through with no pinkness and definitely no redness; might get you spit on if ordered in an American steakhouse (or at the very least a questioning eyebrow raise)

Relevant Terms/Cooking Methods:

  1. Marbling – The vein-y white fat that runs through meat and melts away when cooked (meaning not the huge, thick slabs of fat you cut away as you eat the steak); more marbling is usually desired as it ensures flavor and tenderness
  2. Pan Searing – Process of sealing juices into the meat to provide a more lusciously melt-in-your-mouth steak. This is accomplished by smearing the pan with a coating of vegetable or Canola oil, heating up a skillet (can be cast iron or non-stick or plain metal) over the highest heat possible. Once it’s so hot it’s almost smoking, put the meat in, leaving it completely alone (no shuffling it around with your tongs) for (depending on the thickness of the meat) anywhere from 3 – 8 minutes. Pick up a side of it just to peek for color. Once a brilliantly dark brown crust has formed, flip and sear the other side for a minute or two less. For thinner cuts like hanger and skirt, this is enough to cook the steak to a perfect medium/medium-rare. For thicker cuts like sirloin or filet mignon you may have to finish the cooking in the oven (see below).
  3. Broiling – For some thicker steaks that are too thick to cook all the way through using the pan searing method, you can first pan sear and then stick the steak under the broiler (transfer to a baking pan if you used a non-stick skillet to sear it in the first place, non-stick cannot go into the oven). The broiler consists of heat from above which will help cook the middle of the meat without drying out the seared outside. You can also throw steaks straight into the broiler to cook (a flank steak, for example).
  4. USDA Prime, USDA Choice, USDA Select – Grade of meat from best quality to lowest, mainly based on marbling, color, and texture.

Different Cuts of Steak:

  1. Sirloin – A generally very lean cut, pretty pricey; consists of a “top” and “bottom”. Top sirloin is more tender and more expensive. Bottom sirloin is less tender, bigger, and is usually what you get when the butcher doesn’t specify whether the sirloin is top or bottom.
  2. Filet Mignon – A very tender, very, very lean piece of the tenderloin, usually contradictory features in the world of beef, but alas, that’s why its unique combo jacks up the price. Typically, it is the cut of choice for skinny-minny female meat eaters across the country, meaning it is super lean and tender, but where that lack of fat shows itself is in the fact that it’s not the most flavorful of steaks. For this reason, it will often be accompanied by a sauce or wrapped in bacon.
  3. New York Strip – Also, very expensive cut as it is one of the more desirable cuts for its tenderness. Also known as “Delmonico” or entrecôte.
  4. T-Bone -Aside from being a cool nickname, T-bone is a very large and, therefore, very expensive cut with the eponymous t-shaped bone; kind of a 2-for-1 since it actually consists of two other cuts: the strip and the tenderloin (the 2-for-1 is another reason this steak is so pricey). Best suited for quick cooking like broiling.
  5. Porterhouse – Like a larger T-bone, it, too, consists of the strip and tenderloin on either side of a t-shaped bone, but the tenderloin is thicker. Also like the T-bone, very pricey and delicious broiling.
  6. Rib Eye – Pretty expensive cut (sensing a theme here?) for its especially extensive marbling and, therefore, flavor and tender texture. Called rib eye because it is cut from the beef rib and it can be served with the bone or boneless.
  7. Hanger – Cut from the diaphragm, this steak is tougher than more premium cuts like strip and sirloin and, consequently, hanger is much more affordable, but what it lacks in tenderness, it makes up for in flavor. Hanger steak is characterized by a very long, stringy grain that requires quick cooking and slicing against the grain so each bite is very tender. It can benefit from a marinade of some kind, but, in my opinion, does not require one.
  8. Skirt – Another affordable, flavorful, but tougher cut of steak. Looks similar to the hanger, but narrower and less marbled. The meat comes from the rib cage. Cooks very quickly and, if cut against the grain, it can also be tender. This cut is also used for most fajitas.
  9. Flank – This cut comes from the cow’s stomach and is also known as “London broil.” Like the skirt and hanger, flank steak is very affordable compared to other cuts. Because it’s a well worked muscle, it is probably the toughest of all the cuts mentioned here, but with a long, tenderizing marinade, quick cooking, and, again, slicing against the grain, this steak has absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

Most importantly, as Matt’s dad, Mr. C, always reminds Matt, remember that once you take the steak off the heat, there is carry over cooking time, meaning the steak is so hot it will continue to cook a bit on its own. Take this into account when timing the doneness of your meat.

Lastly, do not serve or slice the steak the minute it comes off the grill/out of the pan/out of the oven. All the juices will pour out. Wait at least 15 minutes before serving or slicing and your patience will be rewarded.

That ends Steak 101 for today. Stay tuned for Steak 102 in the future where I’ll write about my own adventures in steak-land and give you recipes for some great side dishes.

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